make art to sellFiguring out what kind of art that sells or doesn’t is a big concern for many artists. There is so much involved and many factors which affects selling. Finding art buyers may seem overwhelming and frustrating, especially at the initial stages. But, as artists, we do not usually create just for the money. We make art because we love it… because through art we let our voice be heard in the world. This is something that goes far deeper than earning a living from art. For artists who make art purely for enjoyment, this article is not intended to discourage you from what you are doing. I think this is an honourable thing to do. Neither do I think making art specifically to sell is always what is termed “selling out”.  

What follows are some things to consider for creating art that people will buy.


  1. Selling art (often) isn’t easy.

    patience road signDon’t expect to get rich from it overnight – obviously. It takes work, and learning what type of people are likely to buy your art. The main traits artists need to ensure success is patience and consistency. Artists need patience to keep going and not giving up. Artists should not have their main priority of selling art – this may only set them up for disappointment. Create art because you enjoy it first. Be consistent and patient with your promotions.

    Keep learning what works and what doesn’t and where your art is more saleable. Eventually, you will make it, and success will be all the more sweeter because you did it with integrity and hard work.

  2. Create art that people will talk about and want to share.

    Touch People with your Art - Click Here!I have found that people talk about my own artwork because they appreciate the artistic skill it takes, like the themes, or enjoy how I involve the viewer within the piece. Find out what captures the viewers attention the most for your own artwork.

    Pay attention to feedback, and you may notice certain consistencies in what amazes your audience about your own artwork. If you focus on these elements, you may find more people come to recognize you by these strengths.

  3. Don’t be afraid to change what you are doing in order to sell art.

    paint and brushesThis doesn’t mean selling out. Part of being an artist is growing, changing, and responding to trends in the art world. The most famous artists have done the same. Van Gogh’s paintings began as dark and bleak, but he changed it in response to his brother’s advice that bright, bold colors were the fad at the time.

    Of course, he still only sold one painting, but many would say his paintings got better after he started following the art trends of the time, and used his own innovations to invent a style all his own.

  4. Certain subjects sell more than others.

    This is a proven fact, but it will be very difficult for me to tell you exactly what sells best and what doesn’t. It may depend on trends and fads. It may depend on what locals are into. Look around you, especially at art galleries.

    Art galleries are businesses, and tend to focus on work that sells, especially the smaller ones. They could not survive if they didn’t. Therefore, this could be one of the best ways to determine what sells in your area.

  5. Whatever you create, there is a market for it somewhere.

    pencil crayonsThis is certainly a truth. It may be easier to find these people (or them find you) if art is extremely focussed. For example, if you like painting traditional subjects, like I do, the primary market will be locals and tourists.

    For those who paint horses, the main market is quite obviously horse lovers.

    For self-represented artists who promote themselves on the internet, focus on ways for people to find you, instead of you finding them.

    Get an artist website, use SEO to make it easily found, and network with people online.

  6. Pay attention to what people are into where you live.

    In my province, seascapes along with fishing boats, whales, icebergs, local wildlife, the ocean, etc. has always been popular subjects for paintings. I love to paint those as well, but to make my paintings unique, I paint them in a way that is personal. I have to say that if I painted them realistically, they would only look the same as thousands of other Newfoundland artists who paint the same thing.

    But, I am painting something that locals (and tourists) can identify with. For myself, the subject matter does not matter as much as enjoying the process of painting. If I lived elsewhere, I would still paint local imagery in my unique style, and include personal elements.

  7. Create art that is unique and personal.

    pastels art supplyCopying others may work for a while in regards to art sales, but your reputation most certainly will suffer. It may be easier to sell your art if it stands out from the crowd instead of looking the same as thousands of other artists. Saying that, certain themes may sell better anyway, in spite of looking the same as many others. Landscapes tend to be very popular, especially if they are of specific places or landmarks.

    Let people know your personality. People who know what you are about, and what you stand for, your beliefs, hopes, and fears, may identify with you. The personality of the artist influences how much an artist sells just as much as the art itself.


I realize this is a huge subject and I have not covered everything involved in creating art which people will buy. If you have anything to add, I would like you to fill in the blanks.

How do YOU think artists can make art that sells, without selling out?

Post a Comment Blogger

  1. This may be a dumb question but what is SEO?

  2. @Sea Dean
    SEO is short for search engine optimization... I should have said that... sorry

  3. Thank you Graham for this pertinent, useful article. It's an important one.

    For me, it's about a balance. People have said unknowingly with good intention, why don't you sell light houses painted on rocks or buoys? Yes, I could do that and if I was still living in the NWT some folks would say to me why don't you sell oopik on an antler. I could do that too, but I'd be bored out of my gord! It's a balancing act between keeping my own personal integrity intact, loving and enjoying what I am doing, tempered by what I think the viewer has an interest in as subject matter and medium.
    This is what has worked for me.

  4. Although selling my work has come to a real standstill lately,,I believe in myself and my stylist choices. Unfortunately, their some who think that they have all of the answers to my future art successes. Fortunately for a more seasoned artist like myself I can brush them off one way or the other, but for someone just starting out it can be the wrong advice.You may lose yourself in the midst of "living room art". This really is where "Staying true to yourself and your own individuality" becomes very important. Thank you Graham for your wonderful columns.

  5. 1st Of All Value has To Be Established and A Sequence Of Successful Deals Happen To Set market value in stages of an Artists Career. I was worth $5,000 as an Emerging Growth Artist, and Now I Want A 1 Man Show In NYC at The Agorra Gallery in Chealsea District of Manhatten, New York. It makes My Value Increase 8 times to around $40,000 per Original Oil/Painting. I will take a few hundred images. That becomes The Largest Body Of Work Displayed At A 1 Man Show By A 100% Disabled Vet.

    Thanks Thomas.. best of luck in your one man show!

  7. "This doesn’t mean selling out. ". Some call it selling out, some call it making a living doing what you love.

  8. Number 4 and number 7 can seem mutually exclusive. For instance, I find my sunflower paintings get the most attention, but how many unique sunflowers can you paint? I also do not want to become known as the sunflower artist. Any advice on making that work and not going insane? :)

    1. Jonathan - is there something about the sunflower paintings that is different to the rest of your work (ie something other than the sunflower?) Are they lighter, brighter, different medium, different it might not be the sunflowers but something else that may not be as obvious - and if so, you can take what the other aspect is and relate it to other subjects, thus avoid being the sunflower artist (though Van Gogh springs to mind....:))

    2. Jonathan - is there something about your sunflower paintings (other than the sunflower aspect) that is different to your other paintings? ie are they brighter, different medium, different format, style....and if so, it could also be this which is getting more interest, so if there is, you can relate this other aspect to your other work, and avoid being known as the sunflower artist.....mmm, would that be a bad thing though - Van Gogh comes to mind though... :))

  9. This is a part of being an artist that I struggle with. I have a "need" to sell my art because when something sells it is a pat on the back and a big stroke to my ego, so I do try to create my art around what I think my buyers want. I do try to also define my own artistic voice so that my pieces are different than mainstream.

  10. As far as Selling prints of your work, there is etsy, cafepress, zazzle, and deviantart. Etsy for me is too much of a hassle b/c I need to actually handle the shipping and printing and everything.

    Also, you want to get all of your social media networks on par with one another, make it easy for people to be connected with you. on my homepage you can see that I have links to all of my different outlets (twitter, facebook, instagram ebay etc.)

    Personally I use as a printer and shipper of my work. they give you a whole gallery option and pricing plans. They have their bare minimum prices, and you keep anything over that amount. Say it costs them $2.30 to print out and ship an 8×10 print. if you price it for $12, you get 10 bucks.

    Here is an example of my smugmug gallery.

    Hope this helps, and keep up the hard work! If you DO decide to use them, sign up with this link and it will save you 20%

    Keep up the hard work everyone!

  11. Most original art that I've seen out there doesn't sell well and doesn't sell for much because it's crap work with boring subjects. Anyone can pick up a brush and paint but not everyone should think they can become a professional artist and sell their work for good money. People who think their work is so good when it's boring crap need to wake up and take off the blinders and not expect any of their work to sell.
    Quality art of imaginary subjects will sell with no problem, especially oil paintings.

  12. An artist knows somewhere deep down in their soul, whether setting at an easel, drawing board, a potter wheel, or on a performance stage whether they are in 'church' or not. If that place is not where you are supposed to be, then don't do it. If it is where you 'have to be', then do what burns in the recesses of your super sub conscious. It makes absolutely no difference whether anyone else likes the results, or not. You didn't do it for them to begin with. You went to church and did it for you. Personally, I have never been happy to sell any art that meets my criteria of 'acceptable' work. I do portraits, for example, and if the painting or drawing does not possess a 'soul' that will look at you anywhere you are in the room, then I don't keep it. It is an illustration, and sometimes a bad one. If I can't capture that 'soul' in the eyes, I destroy it and start over. If a working boat I am doing does not 'breath' or have a 'heartbeat', I don't keep it. It means something to have those elements in a peice of work, at least for me. If others like it or respond to it,that's good, but it is certainly not the reason I did the work. I did it because I had to do it. My son, who is one of the best guitarists in the world, says exactly the same thing. He really doesn't get on stage to play 'for' an audiance. It is his 'church'. Where he was 'born to be'. He doesn't make a living at it either, and he has been half homeless at times, but he is doing what he was born to do, and that is all that really matters. Guess it runs in the family. So, my two cents worth, is do what you were born to do, and don't consider the value of the market place in deciding what to do. The market will never pay you what you're worth. I spend weeks, months and sometimes years to get what I want from a piece of work. I rarely, if ever sell the final work, because if I have 2-4 months in it full time, then I traded that time for the finished piece. I can't get the time back, but it doesn't matter, I created what mattered, and it will live forever. I have been at this for 55 years now, and I can count on three fingers the art I've actually 'sold', and I am sorry for every one. They were priceless to me, and I sold them for next to nothing and would give anything to have them back. Some I gave away, and I am sorry for many of those too. I am sorry for one seine boat drawing I did of an Angoon seiner. That drawing meant more to the owner of that boat than it did to me, and I should have given it to him, and didn't. It is about the only regret in a long and storied career. I don't want a 'following', or to find anyone that wants my work worse than I do. None of those reasons are why I did the work. When I pass, each piece will go to who it 'belongs' to. I have made a living doing other things, so it isn't like I am half homeless. My advice to any true entry level 'artist' is learn your craft, learn your tools, and do what your soul dictates. It takes about 6-8 years of advanced education to become a truely great brain surgeon. It should take you nothing less to become a competant trained artist. What you do requires the same level of knowledge, techical skill and accuracy as the Brain Surgeon. Take the time to learn to do it well.

    Don't do it for the money. If you want money, be a banker or a counterfeiter. If you want love, be a teacher. But if you want a life of meaning, create your art, whatever it is.

    1. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, John for your comments. You have answered so many questions that were plaguing me as a starter-outer ... it gives me courage to go ahead and do it anyway because I find peace in it.
      Kisses from UK

  13. Excellent article, it probably works in the same vain as a musician. I once lived in a town full of artists and musicians, some of them were very good but did they make a living out of it. Unfortunately no, they always had another job to support themselves. I clicked with John Jenssen last reply which was poignant but very true to the point. Each of us has high expectations when we start but the reality is far from real and its only through perserverance if at all that recognition can be obtained. Maybe never at all. We do art because it is in our blood and we get enormous satisfaction from our own inner self and not through others. Recognition from others may come but it should not be the single driving force. Be pragmatic but still have high expectations of your own talent and you become the judge of your own work.


    I am always trying to improve my self taught art style and hoping to make an earning out of it. A mother of two struggling to save is the motivation. Being motivated does not neccessarily mean I make any money.
    Im always reading up on ways to improve and learn.

  15. I'm in high school, and I'm worried that my paintings just aren't good enough? and I have no idea where to sell, I can't pay for a spot...


Thank-you for your comment!